Large Group Games for Latin Camp, part 3

For Day 3, the same thing inevitably happens every year: I don’t get through everything I planned. Many little things occur I don’t foresee, or many things I plan take a bit longer… But here are the things I actually got to:

Verb Vocab Dance (dance/movement/challenge–call it whatever appeals most to your students! I’ve learned a big portion of appealing to this age group is all in the marketing. What you called it/how you describe it matters!)

Purpose: to help the really abstract endings of the 4 principal parts of verbs to stick! (Because I know they never stuck in my brain well all through Challenge A–until I did this….)

I introduced each verb on my vocab list by asking students if it looked familiar or they could guess the meaning just by knowing English.

I drew students’ attention to the pattern they can see in the list of verbs listed with their 4 principal parts: the endings. I explained we were going to move our bodies differently for each word and for each principal part ending to help them stick in our minds.

I introduced hand motions:

for “o”: I made a big O above my head;

For “are” I made a sign language “r” with my fingers

for “avi” I told this story: someone going up on a roller coaster may be saying, “ah” with anxiety, but when they go down the other side, they say “weeeee!”–so we made the motion with one hand going up then down a roller coaster hill, saying “ah-weee!”

last, for “”atus” I waved my arms up and down like undulating tentacles because the ending makes me think of “octopus.”

After we covered that, I introduced a movement for the stem of each verb. For instance, for pugno, I put up my fists; for laudo, I raised my hands in the air; for explore, I put my hand to my forehead like I was searching. We went though each one, making the movement of the stem followed by the moment for the ending.

After I introduced all that, we went through the list, joining the motions for each verb with the endings for each principal part. This was so good for my scroochy or young students especially–it was so active and required both attention and energy. It actually went over better than I expected, with all the older ones doing it with attention.

And I sure know it worked for me. I have gotten those endings down!!!


Scrambled sentence

Purpose: to practice translating and noticing declension endings to determine Latin noun cases.

At home, make sentences on large cards, one word per card. All nouns are in Latin, but other words are in English. I made enough sentences to give to each group of 4-6 students a sentence.


In class I split students into small groups of 4-6 and asked students to:

a. talk to each other  to determine how to unscramble the sentence and translate it.

b. Using the 6 yellow post-it notes I give them, write these labels on them: SN, V, DO, IO, OP, Poss. Use the 5 other-colored post-its and have them write the Latin noun cases on them: Nom, Gen, Dat, Acc, Abl.

c. put the sticky notes on the word cards.

d. don costumes that fit their words if desired.

(I had my helpers circulate the room to help; the younger students really needed step-by-step help to figure any of this out.)

When the groups were done, I called each up to read their sentence, explain how they knew how to label the words, and translate. (Some groups could explain well; younger groups could not, but that’s ok–I let them report whatever they understood–and they could all figure out translation pretty accurately.)

An older group presented well and they did it for the parent presentation as well later that morning.


Ending Art

Purpose: to get the endings drilled into students’ heads; to have some quiet time, creative time, that some students need.

I didn’t have this on my plans, but I ended up using it. (It was on day 2, once, but I ran out of time. This idea came from lunch time with our practicum speaker, who used it to fill time during standardized testing when she taught school.)

Goal: to draw a picture using the letters of the 1st conjugation present tense endings to create the image. There are two ways to approach this, basically: use the endings of o,s,t,mus,tis,nt as the outline of a form, or use the letters to fill in areas of a drawing. I saw many cool student ideas. Some made bubble letters of their names, and inside each letter, copied the endings, very small. Others wrote the words very small to form the lines of the drawings themselves. One girl drew stick figures in various athletic poses, and their limbs were all strings of these letters: “ostmustisnt.”

I stressed that the main goal was writing the endings in order each time, so that order is what sinks into their brains.


Vocab Charades

Purpose: to review vocab (old or new)

At home, place vocab words on slips of paper.

Ask for volunteers to pull out a word from a hat. They act it out, trying to get students to guess by their antics.

I ran out of time for this, but the good thing about this game is, even if you only do 4 words, it’s a great filler activity for short time spans. I might use this at my next camp as the standard filler for when I have a few minutes waiting for the recess helpers to arrive.


Mime a Verb

Purpose: to practice verb vocab and adding endings of the person doing the action

(Note–My lesson plans ended up changed; I conflated showing how to conjugate with this game, back-to-back. I had planned to show them how to conjugate a verb and then, a few  hours later, play the mime game!)

First, I had to demonstrate this completely. I chose one verb, “laudo,” and wrote its 4 principal parts on the board. I also wrote a blank conjugation chart on the board. I told students there were three steps for us to translate the present tense verbs:

step 1. find the 2nd principal part and circle the ending (while simultaneously defining the stem). I demonstrated circling ARE. I wrote “laud,” the stem, in the spaces of the conjugation chart.

step 2: I asked students what were the endings for present tense verbs. They answered by singing “o, s, t, mus, tis, nt.” I began writing them in the chart, after “laud” but after leaving a space. I got some laughs by asking students to read some of the words as they were: “laudnt,” for instance.

step 3: I explained the missing part–a vowel, explaining that you have to add a certain vowel based on the conjugation. I explained that all verbs we learned that day are 1st conjugation, nicknamed the “a” conjugation because you have to add an a before all endings except for 1st person singular. I had a student add an “a” in all the right places.

Demonstrating how I’d mime, I went through each form in order. For laudo, I simply pretended to praise God.

BUT for the 2nd person, I said I had to hire an actor to help me. I brought up a student and commanded, “Laudas!” I asked the class what that meant, and waited for “You praise.”

For the 3rd person, I said I needed to hire two actors, whispered to them to praise God, and I pointed to their acting and asked the class what they were doing: “They praise; Laudat.” I did this for plural, hiring as many “actors” as needed to have each scenario acted out. (Edit: I actually now remember I used pugnare for this demo–which is great because they love seeing “fight” being acted out, but it also kept all demonstrations of that word firmly under my control! I highly recommend that!)

Starting the Game: I asked volunteers who wanted to be directors in this mime game to choose a slip of paper. The slips of paper had a single verb on it, conjugated for a specific person. The volunteer had to look at the chart and determine what the word meant as well as who and how many people were doing it and hire the appropriate actors. (I highly recommend calling on older students, at least at first. A sweet 9 year old was always so enthusiastic but really didn’t understand; she needed to watch everyone else and then maybe go last.) The director has to quietly instruct actors of their jobs. (Tip: have about 5-6 kids draw a word at a time, that way they had time to think about their word while waiting, saving time between turns.

Then the scene was acted out (maybe exploramus or orant or pugnas…) Then students had to guess what word the director pulled from the bag. This was a hit and could have gone on for far longer. But I did notice that very few students were raising their hands to answer. That’s not necessarily bad. I think it helps review vocab for the younger kids,  even if only the sharpest/most mature could even begin to figure out the personal endings. It might be a great game that allows two levels of learning/review to go on simultaneously. The young ones were thoroughly enjoying it and getting what they could while the older ones were challenged to push their skills.

Latin Mad Libs

Purpose: to review vocab and how to decline and conjugate.

(I never got to this but perhaps I will in my next camp.)

I had some sentences written in y notes and put them on the board in Latin with some strategic blanks. For instance:

____________ (SN/Nom)  sees __________(DO/Gen).

Rex __________________(verb) in the _________________ (OP/Abl)

In each case, I’d ask for Latin words from those volunteering answers. Then I’d ask the class what the word meant and write the translation below. Then we’d talk through the declension ending or conjugation ending to make sure it was correct. When that’s all shored up, I’d ask a student to read and translate the entire sentence all together and wait for the laughs. (I gave my students a folder with all vocab lists in them so for this, maybe having folders out is a good idea, especially for young ones.)

Another idea to liven this up is to have models/actors illustrate each sentence as you go. If someone suggests “Nauta” as the subject, you’d call up a volunteer to be the sailor and put a hat on him/her, etc. For verbs, the noun doing the action would have to strike a pose appropriate for the verb. Somehow this never got old…


Latin telephone

Purpose: repeating/reviewing vocab

Split class into groups of at least 5 students. (Preferably one group per helper.)

Have one team come up and demonstrate this (to avoid 100 questions before you can begin). Give the student at the head of the line a folder with the vocab in it, for reference. (The folder stays at that end of line.) Also, give that student with a small white board and dry erase marker and instruct him to write a word on a board that the teammates cannot see. Then that person turns and whispers the word to the person behind him in the team line. Each teammate thus passes on the whispered word until the end. The last person speaks aloud the heard word, and then the writer holds up the white board to show what he wrote. Students laugh, ha ha, and the team writes down “1” in the corner if the spoken and  written words match. Last, the writer walks to the end of the line, leaving student #2 with the white board and marker to have her turn. Repeat until all students have a turn.

(Note, you could require that each word chosen comes with the translation. Example, writing/saying “natua, sailor.”)

4 Corners

Purpose: to review all new grammar from the 3 days AND get energy out!

I simply told students each areas they can walk to, designating them with numbers/letters. I  asked a question, let all students walk to their corner, then I pulled out an index card designating one corner which has to answer. With each question, students have to move. My saying the question before they move was crucial because they all needed to think of the answer, not knowing if their corner would be called on to answer or not.

This is very popular and gives the students much-loved social interaction. It can get loud, so sometimes and with some classes, it’s just too much to ask in the moment! But in general, it’s a great, simple game and a lot gets reviewed because answering is pretty quick when a group of kids is doing it together.

Latin Clue

Purpose: to review vocab and endings

This is done as my post Latin Clue Game describes. On this last day, their game card (1 per pairing of students) has 4 columns, since I added a verb column using the day’s new vocab. Also, I made the card up really thinking I’d get to teaching both present and perfect tenses, but we never got to perfect. So I just put a note on the board that all verbs ending in “avit” meant past tense, telling the students I’d meant to teach them that but ran out of time.

Just as in day 2, I had the class add student names to the subject noun column and the direct object column–and had to remember to make up the clue cards with those names before pulling out one from each category to be the mystery for the students to guess!

And that’s it–end of day 3!

Other posts:

Large Group Games for Latin Camp

How Do You Change a Negative Classroom Atmosphere or Create a Positive One in the First Place?

Six Lessons from Employing Mr. Mom

My Current Step in Publishing: Finding an Agent



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My Current Step in Publishing: Looking for an Agent

So just last month, I went to a conference for writers, on the search for an agent to help me find a publisher for my novel. Yes, in my world it’s a feat–my husband stayed home with the kids for 3 days! (Six Lessons from Employing Mr. Mom)

I’ve been to conferences over the years, but this was the time it got REAL. I was on a mission, finished novel in tow, to find representation to help get the book out there finally!

For those who haven’t been studying this for years, agents are people who are looking for authors with books they can sell. They get paid only when a deal is made and their pay comes from a percentage of the sale. They’re like realtors, but for books. They represent your interests, try to negotiate better deals–and they have contacts on the inside of the business and can sometimes deliver your book directly to the desk of a publisher who’s craving exactly the kind of book you just wrote.


So how do you find an agent? Well, you could do the equivalent of cold-calling, though more socially accepted but with almost the same results: look up their contact info and send them a letter (query letter) describing your book, to see if they might be interested in reading it.) this is better known as ending up in the “slush pile”–that proverbial place where millions of manuscripts die before seeing the light of day. But a few are picked this way and live on for years on store bookshelves. But the better, more statistically successful way is meeting agents in person, hence going to a conference.

The conference I attended provided each attendee who paid for the 3-day conference 1-2 meetings with agents who traveled from NYC for this purpose.

And you get: 10 minutes. Yes, 10 minutes. No pressure. Just 10 minutes to sell the idea of your book (and show yourself to not be an unreasonable person to work with. DO NOT under-estimate that. This has to be a working relationship; an agent is your first editor in the publishing world, with an interest in making your book better or more marketable, and may suggest significant changes. Will they want to work with your personality? Or do they find your book compelling but prefer seeing you on the other end of a 99 and a half foot pole ala the Grinch? Are you teachable? Cocky? Unrealistic? Unpleasant? Conversely, do you feel comfortable with this personality to want to work with them? But that’s another topic.)

But yes, 10 minutes. That’s all you have.

There are classes you can take to teach you how to not be a stammering, perspiring mass. It’s easy to get in that situation and feel like you’re having an out-of-body experience, watching yourself grasp at straws and ramble on about details of your book as you lose a grip on the theme and the hook–the things you really should be talking about.

But at this conference, I wasn’t a mess. I’ve pitched before over the years. This was just the first time I was ready, really ready to sell a completed book.

I had two pitch appointments with editors scheduled for the second day of the conference.

And then something perhaps lucky or providential happened the morning of my appointments. I went in to the tail end of breakfast, and the silverware from the tables had all been cleared away. Except one table. One girl was sitting there, and I joined her. We chatted a bit, and I asked what kind of writing she did. She said, “No, I’m an agent.” I thought I knew what all the agents looked like, but she looked somewhat different from her picture, and I really had no inkling. So then she asked what kind of writing I did. And we had a nice, easy few-minutes conversation about literature. I did not try to pitch my book to her right then and there. It didn’t feel right. But I talked about how much effort I’d put into this complex beast of a dual-timeline plot I’d been trying to master and how I’d invested years into trying to figure out how to tell the story I was passionate to tell. In those few minutes, I was impressed with her knowledge of the genre I write in, and she told me other writers  and books to check out; she really knew the market.

So later, I checked with the person managing all the agent appointments to see if this agent had any opening left. I was given her last appointment of the day.

Which was awesome, because of the three, she tuned out to be the most enthusiastic.

All three appointments went very well-; the agents met my work with interest. For this pitch, I had a memorized pitch designed to hit all the points–but with one difference compared to ones in the past. I’d learned at a baby shower–of all places–the key to hooking others’ interest. Let me be honest, I was still groaning two months ago when anyone asked what me novel was about. Because I struggled with how to succinctly portray it.

Over the years, I’ve tried many angles. I’ve tried to talk about the two marriages in the book, the two generations of the family, the issue of infidelity, the concept of family secrets, family curses… It’s all in my book. But two months ago, I was asked by people I’d just met to explain my book.  I instinctively knew to default to one aspect of my book when I suspected the audience to be the hardest sell: I led with the house as the main character. That is my title after all: Still House. The moment I said, “My story is about a house that attracts two different generations of the same family, and the house spills their secrets,” the listeners leaned in, pupils dilated, saying “oooh.”

So that is what I took to lead my pitch.

In the end, two of the three agents asked me to follow up by sending first chapters. And the one who did not was really very helpful and generous, going out of her way to encourage me. Though she was looking for novels that are lighter–more like beach reads–she made a point to tell me she’d read my opening the previous evening, before she knew it was mine, and told me it was the “most compelling” of all the other novel openings presented. She made a point to let me know how polished my writing and professional presentation of myself were. She could have just ended that appointment early and had some down time. But instead, she chatted and offered some tips to find the kind of agent I need.

The two agents who were interested in reading my first chapters were both attentive and inquisitive–really asking insightful questions about the inner working of my plot. I think I succeeded each time to be conversational, not resorting to the halting words of someone painfully spewing line after line of a planned speech. I finally had gotten comfortable enough in telling my story that I could field questions I’d not prepared without panicking and feeling overwhelmed.  And I left with each of the agents’ cards and the specifics on what to send for their next round of consideration.

All-in-all, I considered that conference time well-spent.

So now I send out those chapters and wait…


Other Posts:

The Ink They Left On Me: Writers Anne Lamott and Tracy Chevalier

Finding an Editor: Genre Matters (And sometimes, maybe you just have to do it yourself!

How Do You Change a Negative Classroom Atmosphere or Create a Positive One in the First Place?

18 Things I Didn’t Do This Summer (Is Summer Mom Guilt A Thing?)

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Six Lessons from Employing Mr. Mom

So, in a rare twist of events, the back-to-back scheduling of two conferences forced an untried scenario: Daddy home all day (and even some nights) alone with the kids while I was away–for 6 days! We’ve done a few days before, but 6! That’s almost a week!

It just couldn’t be helped. A writer’s conference was mid-May–and my book was ready for an agent (My Current Step in Publishing: Finding an Agent). I couldn’t wait another year. BUT the homeschooling conference I’d contracted to work at was scheduled for the three days directly after the writers’ conference!


What do you learn from leaving the house for 6 days with your husband in charge? (And let me add, our dishwasher had recently broken…)

I learned a few things:

1. Your husband and you have very different priorities and have eyes on different things. And that’s good! I spend all my time on my priorities; the kids have been tutored in them every day, all day, for years and years. But being home with my husband, the kids had time to learn about some other things. My husband notices things I don’t notice–or don’t have time to notice–or that I do notice and still don’t have time to address. My husband took the time to teach my kids to do different things than I usually do.

With the dishwasher broken, he taught the boys to wash dishes and assigned them each a meal to clean up after! He spent time having them organize or re-organize shelves and areas that had been neglected.


2. Your husband may be willing to help and support you and your work  more than you realized. I mean this in two ways: that my husband was really supportive of my being gone to pursue publishing my novel AND that he was also willing to try to accomplish my job at home which I was vacating in order to do so.

What surprised me most was that my husband actually said, “What do you want them to do for school?” While I do homeschool the three kids, I had never expected any school work would get done while I was gone, except for math worksheets. Because we’re behind on them. And because that’s something I figured could be done every afternoon without putting more on my husband’s plate, as the kids can do the review sheets without much help. But I was not prepared that my husband would want to do the whole kit and caboodle.

But he asked.

So I wrote up my plans for the kids, and while I didn’t bother with science or history, I covered the most crucial subjects: math, handwriting, phonics, reading, spelling, piano lessons.

3. Your kids benefit from the other parent’s involvement in areas where they don’t normally have that interaction. My middle kid never had Daddy help him read or figure out his multi-digit multiplication. He even told me he liked Daddy helping him read better. That’s a really positive thing, a bonding thing. I don’t even mind if the comparison is not in my favor.


4. Your husband can see for himself how the kids are doing in areas they normally aren’t there to witness. One of my kids struggles particularly in one academic area, and while my husband was aware and had asked questions about it, this one-on-one time over days, completing a few lessons in that subject, let him really see how our son functioned. My husband had some observations, and while I’m sure it helped my husband understand our son’s performance, it also helped me to have someone else’s notes to compare to my own. We both observed how much the child’s “ability” increases when he’s interested, while his “ability” to do the work decreases greatly when he says he’s bored. Such observations are VERY useful in diagnosing the root problem.

5. You can receive some healthy affirmation that your normal job is really demanding–and he understands it more. During the second conference, I was home in the evenings–though really late, often past the kids’ bedtime, as I had to take my oldest to a baseball game or appointment, etc. But when there were still 2 of the 6 days left of my husband’s stay-at-home stint, he looked at the lesson plans again and exclaimed–“Wait, tomorrow’s only Tuesday? We have two more days?” He said the days were so LONG. How did I do it every day?

He assured me that my job was VERY secure. He said that while he tried to fit in some school work, he couldn’t manage it all, between the other demands of housework and upkeep outside, plus he wanted to have other experiences with the kids besides just school work on the days he took off work to do this.


Seeing as I expected no days of schoolwork to be accomplished while I was gone for four weekdays, his getting through 2-days worth of lessons was actually all bonus to me. Any amount done was a help!

6. It can be done, without disastrous results. While being gone for 6 days isn’t something I really like to do, we managed, and without catastrophe! I could never have gotten through the pace of the demands on my time those days without my husband taking off work to fill in for my normal job. It all went better than expected, and while I don’t hope that I have 2 conferences back-to-back again, it’s nice to know we can manage that.


Other posts:

How Do You Change a Negative Classroom Atmosphere or Create a Positive One in the First Place?

The Ink They Left On Me: Writers Anne Lamott and Tracy Chevalier

Finding an Editor: Genre Matters (And sometimes, maybe you just have to do it yourself!)

Large Group Games for Latin Camp


Posted in homeschooling, life with kids, writing life | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Large Group Games for Latin Camp, part 2

So Large Group Games for Latin Camp got to be too long of a post, so here’s part 2. Games I used day 2 of my camp of 34 kids, ages 9-14:

Hot Potato

Purpose: to painlessly repeat a declension song many, many times! (I did this for 2nd declension endings)

My class was very large, so I had three objects to pass around our circle: various props–whatever I have on hand. From a marker to a stuffed animal. I had students make a big circle around the outside edges of our classroom, and we began singing, passing our three objects clockwise (each object started at a different point.) When we finished the song, the three people who’d last touched the objects were “out” and had to take a seat in the middle of the room. Continue until you’re down to a few people and they have to toss the objects to each other–or in my case, until some of the students started to care a little too much and get hot under the collar! I just calmly said that indicated we should not play that game until all involved had a chance to cool off. We’d also sung the song perhaps 7-10 times, so it had met its purpose. At the end of camp, students said this was a favorite I should do again. So simple, but a winner!

Declension Endings Quick Draw:

Purpose: to help students remember how to spell the endings that are difficult.

I even go over pronunciation charts at the start of new grammar each day, but still, this is so counter-intuitive–and we have 9-10 year olds! I noticed that while “ae” is pronounced like our English long “i”, and  long Latin “i” with a macron is pronounced like English’s long “e”, students were not getting this. And when it comes to being able to recognize a Latin noun’s declension, this is crucial!   So I made this game up to reinforce just the challenging endings of 1st and 2nd declensions. At home, I made two sets of cards with each of these endings written large: a, ae, am, a (with a macron), is (with macron), as (with macron) us, i (with macron), um, os (with macron).

In class, I had a table/desk on each side of the front of the room with those cards laid out, face up. I ask for two contestants at a time. I explained that they’d get three questions in a row. When I say a sound, each time they should pick up that card and hold it up for all to see. I stood in the back of the class to see each contestant equally and announce who was correct or first correct.

This seemed to go really well–kids were eager to volunteer. (And I tried to be careful whom I paired together). And the comments let me know that students were grasping something they weren’t getting before. because I kept repeating the same few troublesome ones over and over, I think it helped students hear the sound and see the letters that spelled it helping them all sink into memory.

Vocab flash card swap:

Purpose: to apply knowledge of declension endings to notice which words are 1st versus 2nd declension

The previous day, I had students make flashcards of vocab. For this game, I asked students to shuffle their cards and then switch their stack of cards with someone near them. I said it didn’t matter if they made three or 16–the game could be played. I asked them to divide their neighbor’s cards into two piles: 1st declension nad 2nd declension. I asked a volunteer to come up and point to my charts and explain how they can tell the difference, based on the endings. Then, I let students get to it. If they had a small decks and finished easily, I checked for correctness, then okayed them ot switch with someone else who was done. (Having names on cards helps with this, but my class kept everything local so it didn’t pose a problem.)

Vocab Theater

Purpose: intro and review vocab. (I did this as part of new grammar, day 2.) This is the second game I explain in part 1 of Large Group Games for Latin Camp. 

Below is the 3rd declension vocab list with costume/acting ideas for each student who assumes the role. I set it to the tune of We Three Kings, beginning with “3rd declension nou-ou-ou-ouns,” then sang the list in the order below. But I didn’t sing the (plural, cavalry)” part.

Caesar, Caesaris—Caesar: student wore crown of leaves

rex, regis—king: student wore crown and cape

equēs, equitis—horseman: student held a plastic horse 

(plural, calvary)

mīles, mīlitis—soldier: student wore any pieces of Roman soldier wear

hostis, hostis—enemy: as we’ll learn day 3, Roman enemies included Germanic barbarian, and I had a

                                Viking-like furry hat that would do

pax, pacis–peace: studnet stood, making the peace sign

collis, collis—hill: student used a hand motion to indicate hill

mons, montis—mountain: student made a mountain peak with tiher hands above head

urbs, urbis—city: student used hand to draw skyscraper city line

centuriō, centuriōnis—centurion: similar to soldier but more grand–the best costuem pieces


Declension surgery

Purpose: to practice putting endings on 3rd declension words in a quick way. I came up with this after my attempts the previous day were so laboriously slow; writing declension charts on the board takes a long time, especially if you call on students!

First, I drew a chart on the board that could be filled in for a 3rd declension noun in all its forms, singular and plural. I pointed to my wall chart of 3rd declension endings. I then walked to my chart I drew on the board, and asked students to direct me what to write until I had endings written on the left-hand side of each blank rectangle.

I had strips of paper with the nominative form of a 3rd declension vocab word that I made ahead of time, as well as the genitive form. I first demonstrated the surgery myself. I held up one pair of words, showing the class. I told them the surgeon’s job is to #1) find the stem and #2) cut off the ending. I asked them what the stem of a word is, reviewing from the previous day. But here it got tricky; before, we could see what was in common between the nominative and genitive forms, and that told us the stem.

I explained, laughing with my challenge A students, that 3rd declension is the crazy declension, and how you can’t take anything at face value when it comes to its nominative form. I said the key is to look only at the genitive. I asked the class what the genitive endings is 3rd. A student answered, “is.” So  I cut the “is” off of the word in my hand. I then took both forms of the word and put sticky tack on the back, and placed the nominative form on the board, covering “various.” The stem in my other hand, I placed in the genitive rectangle, next to the ending I’d written, “is”, and I showed how I could just move the stem to each box, adding it to each ending down the columns. I led the students in reciting the entire 3rd declension of my word.

Then I asked for volunteer surgeons to do the same. I gave each two words and gave guidance as needed, or asked audience to help guide a student to figure out the stem, cut off the ending, and take the class through reciting the declension chart of their word.


Cyclops Challenge

Purpose: for students to identify latin noun cases by recognizing a word’s ending.



Just like for the Latin Noun Case Chase, at home I wrote, in large letters, on half-sheets of paper, 3rd declension vocab words in all forms, aiming to have an even number of each case.

I needed my helpers enlisted in this, so I prepped them ahead of time.

I asked who knew who Cyclops was. Some did know because of Story of the World. I linked this to Aeneas, the ancestor of Romulus and Remus whom we’d read about yesterday as the last hero of the Greeks left after the trojan war, and how in his adventure story, The Aeneid, Ulysses blinds Cyclops. I explained that I need blindfolded volunteers who feel comfortable not being able to see. Their job description is to stand rooted to the spot where they are taken and to move their arms to try to touch anyone who might be walking by. I say they can squat and move up and down, any which way, as long as feet stay planted. And they should be moving like trees in a breeze, not violently like machetes–we don’t want to hurt people trying to sneak through!


The object of the game is that teams of students are trying to get past a row of blindfolded Cyclopses to get to the words on paper spread out on the floor behind them. Goal: each team of students is trying to collect all words of their assigned Latin noun case of the 3rd declension (nominative, genitive, dative, etc.) Each team may send one member at a time to crawl, slither or move through the line of blind Cyclopses. IF they are touched, they have to return to their team empty-handed, and the team sends another member.

(Tips: I had 34 students; I knew teams more than 5 would be too big, and I had 5 teams since there are 5 Latin noun cases. So I used that “surplus” of my number of students as the Cyclops line. In a staggered line, they stretched across our room. (We had to push tables aside.)

I also said my helpers had the role of thieves who can go steal teams’ papers and take them back to the Cyclops’ lair–but this was designed as a handicap if say, a group of older students accomplished this super fast. However, no one even needed a handicap as it was just challenging enough.

This was very entertaining and students seemed to really like the challenge. Some really did slither on the ground to get to the words–there and back! When everyone who wanted a turn had a turn, then we stopped the game and counted how many correct words each team had found.

Notes: this is a game where students have time to chat. While not bad, it can get noisy or out of hand. Be aware. This works only if the blindfolded people control themselves and that the other students are honest about being tagged. (It helps to have helpers watching to verify.) Also, I did let the Cyclops roles switch out; mid-way, I took a volunteer from each team to leave the team and be a Cyclops, and that previous Cyclopses took their places on teams. This worked well.

A student at the end of camp said that was a favorite game and thanked me for letting the students try a game like that. (It can be a risk, physically. You have to know your students, set expectations for safe play, and know when to pull the plug if it’s not going well.)



Purpose: vocab review

This was mentioned in the training. I made my own sheets with my vocab words. I had just one sheet pers student and said we’d mark words with a small pencil X, that way they could be erased and the sheets used again. Very effective, easy was to review vocab for 2 days.

FInd your Family!

Purpose: for students to look at words from their vocab lists (listed always by nominative and genitive forms) and determine if they are 1, t, 2nd or 3rd.

At home, I wrote vocab word pairs on sticky notes–enough for one per student.

In class, I had helpers help pass those words out and students wore them on their shirts like a name tag.

I explained they now have a new name/identity. Now their job is to find their new family. I pointed to my charts and asked students to explain how they could tell if a words was 1st, 2nd or 3rd declension. After that quick review, I told students that each of them is in a family–and they have to figure out if it’s 1st, 2nd, or 3rd–AND they have to find their family.

I let them mill around the room until the three groups formed. I ask each group what endings they had on the ends of all their words, and we congratulated people for finding their families!


Purpose: vocab review

The above game didn’t take very long, so then I handed out laminated sheets of paper and dry erase markers, and asked volunteer drawers to draw a word from their family to see if the other families could guess it. I was very laid back about this; didn’t keep score, let kids go in the order they were done drawing and ready to come up and show the class. It even was okay if two students did the same word–repeat review never hurts!

Latin Clue

Purpose: 3rd declension vocab review

I played this as our last game of the day again, as described in Latin Clue Game. Students’ game cards had mostly 3rd declension words this time. I left some blanks on their game cards as well as blank cards in my deck; I asked for students to nominate a classmate with a 3rd declension name to be added to the game, and all students wrote the nominees on their sheets, and I wrote the names on the cards–both in the subject column and direct object column (before I pulled out one card per category for the mystery to solve.). (Earlier in the day, when I showed them how to decline 3rd declension, we talked about how to tell if classmates have 3rd declension names and how ot decline them.)

I hope this helps!

Day 3 games\/activites: Large Group Games for Latin Camp, part 3


Other posts:

Large Group Games for Latin Camp part 1

How Do You Change a Negative Classroom Atmosphere or Create a Positive One in the First Place?

Creating an Encouraging Classroom

Classroom Management: Positive Social Motivation

Holding Kids Accountable in an Encouraging Classroom













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Large Group Games for Latin Camp

This is my third summer volunteering to run the academic camp for ages 9-14 for Classical Conversations. This summer, the theme was Latin, and I just spent a year tutoring beginning Latin in CC’s Challenge A program for students age 12+.

With such an age range, 9 year olds (some who have struggles reading and writing) through 14 year olds (who’ve been through 7th or 8th grade), what do you do for three days that can be educational AND fun? Well, my answer is games, and teaching as much through socially active games as I possibly can.

Here I’ll share games I found useful, when things bombed, and how I’ll do them differently when I do another camp with different students later this summer. Thee are more good ideas out there than I could ever possibly utilize. Be sure to chose things that fit you, your teaching style, your personality; they’ll go best!

When students arrived, they saw a wanted poster on my wall. I had talked this camp up to students entering my Challenge A class next year, explaining it as the basics of what they’ll learn in a few months, and I also let them know the theme: Ancient Rome Clue. (No, no one needs a theme–but I just taught this for a year and so I have one, since I developed the game in class.)

So I explained that each day, they will learn vocabulary and Roman history, and each afternoon, they’d be paired with a partner, receive some clues with words we’d worked on, and then have a chance to solve the mystery.


(Each day, new poster.) This is modelled after the board game Clue. I explain how I do this in another post: Latin Clue Game. This game was useful to me throughout the year and in camp for 2 reasons 1) it helps students review vocab because they keep hearing the words, and 2) it can be played by all students, even those who struggle with remembering any of the vocab; we can review without putting struggling students on the spot.

So here’s the rest of the games, mostly in the order I used them in my lesson plans.


Vocab Theater

Purpose: to introduce and review new vocab.  (In camp, this was done as part of new grammar.) I introduced Latin vocab the way I did with my class all year in Challenge A: reading the Latin words aloud, asking students if they sound familiar or like anything in English, then revealing the English translation if no one guessed it.

Then I asked for volunteers for Vocab Theater, and I hype this up by asking who likes to act and who likes to be entertained. This age group loves this if you call it acting. Taking the 1st declension nouns list, I got volunteers for them in the order as listed. You can see my vocab lists for day 1 below. I didn’t go by the given lesson plan much; I chose my own vocab that best fit what I wanted to do.

In my vocab list below, you’ll see the props and acting descriptions I gave students. I call up one volunteer at a time, quickly give their prop (a helper, if you have one, is handy for this) and give them acting instructions for when they hear their word. (All students will start the performance squatting; only when they hear their words will they stand and perform their role; then they squat back down when they hear the next word.)

When all parts have been assigned and they are standing in order across the front of the classroom, we announce to the class that they will now see the dress rehearsal! I’ve done this both by merely speaking the words, and by singing the words in order as a song. (2nd declension nouns fits to “Down by the Bay,” if the first words you sing are, “2nd declension nouns”).

Dress rehearsal usually reveals some kinks, someone not following directions or confused, but after 1 or 2, we’re ready to perform. Up to this point, I’ve been singing a solo, asking students just to sit and watch/listen. But after we do it three times, I then invite the class to join with me singing as they watch, and I just roll through the song 3-4 more times without really stopping, unless I need to. This is so popular that students ask when we can do it again.

—1st declension nouns

nauta, nautae–sailor: student wearing sailor hat, hoisting imaginary sail

glōria, glōriae–fame, glory: student with two students encircling who are jubilantly treating him/her like celebrity

porta, portae—gate: student holding sign with picture of gate

grātia, grātiae—influence, favor: student with praying hands giving deep bows

victōria, victōriae—victory: student dressed for battle, fist up in victory

Rōma, Rōmae—Rome: holding sign of map pointing to Rome

Gallia, Galliae—Gaul: holding sign of map pointing to Gaul

silva, silvae—forest: student holding or bedecked with branches and ivy boughs

terra, terrae—earth: student kneeling to touch ground

—2nd declension nouns

amīcus, amīcī—friend: two girls who put arms around each other’s shoulders

fīlius, fīliī—son: any boy, pointing to himself

dominus, dominī—master, lord: someone dressed in a lordly cape and/or standing authoritatively

Rōmānus, Rōmānī—Roman: student dressed with anything reminiscent of a Roman soldier

servus, servī—servant, slave: student pretending to scrub the board

Chrīstiāna, Chrīstiānī—Christian: student holding a cross

gladium, gladiī–sword: student holding a sword

mūrus, mūriī—wall: student pointing to the wall

Chrīstus, Chrīstī–Christ: student holding portrait of Jesus


Musical papers.

Purpose: to practice copying the endings of any declension (I did it with 1st) without boredom.

Because musical chairs is ever-popular, but it’s impossible in a room with this many people and no space! I started by explaining we’d be passing paper and who would pass to whom. (Because I had a crazy configuration of tables to fit in 34 kids, I did have to walk the paper from the last student on one side of the room to the student who needed it on the other side of the room.)

Second, I gave very specific instructions because 9 and 10 year olds were struggling with just verbal instructions. I drew a piece of paper on the board and wrote out the 1st declension endings. I asked students to get a piece of paper from their folders and copy it.

Third, I explained that when I played the music (classical via my phone), they should write as much of that list again as they legibly could–whether they had enough time to copy the whole list or just one letter!

Fourth, when the music stops, they have to stop writing and pass their papers in the direction we went over.

Fifth, when the music started again, they should pick up writing where the last student left off.

This was hilarious! As I hoped, it wasn’t drudgery, and they were laughing because sometimes I let the music play so briefly they barely got a single  letter written. Other times, I let it play long enough that many were writing an entire set or more.

At the end, I asked students to count how many correct sets, easy to read, were on their papers. They loved this, and a 9 year old even asked to play it again on other days.


Mad libs.

Purpose: to explain/review subject noun, verb, direct object, indirect object and object of the preposition. (Note: some kids have never learned this before!!!) I didn’t use the one provided by CC. I just did individual sentences that involved them nominating classmates for the subject nouns. This is always a winner.


Declension ending relay.

Purpose: to practice writing the declension endings. I did it for 2nd.

I did this in challenge A and so had two of my prior students do this in front of the entire class. That helped; a game that could be complicated was made simper by students having watched a round.

First, a student was given a partner, and I called the two up front. Student A was given a small white board, dry erase marker and eraser and stood in front of the class. Student B was given the handout I gave students earlier that listed the declension endings and then she left the room to stand in the hall and place the paper on the ground there.

When I said “Begin!” student A wrote down the first declension ending. (I had the whole board propped on a podium so the class could see what was written.) As soon as she was done writing that one ending, she walked to the hall and gave her marker to her partner. Her partner came in, alone, and wrote te second ending. (Meanwhile, student A was in the hall, reading over the endings, studying them.)

Next, when student B was done writing the second ending, she went to the hall to give her partner the marker, and the partner came back in an wrote the third ending.  As my two students kept modeling this, I explained that this would go on, them switching places, until time ran out. I gave the goal to try to get 6 sets written.

I then divided my class into 4 groups and had my helpers take them to different doorways. I had a double-door classroom, so one helper took her group to the 2nd doorway, another helper used the doorway of the kitchen next door, the other helper used an empty classroom next door, and I stayed with my group in our classroom. We each had 4 pairs of students coming in and out of our respective doorways. Alternate idea: if you have access to a big space and don’t have to resort to doorways nad hallways,use a big room or a gym and simply have partners placed on opposite walls. Easier!

This was fun, active, and students seemed to find it motivating. Again, I was trying to make copying something interactive and fun, with some urgency. I also was able to mitigate problems of dyslexia and struggling writers by making the task really short–they had to write merely one or a few letters. This was a very important change; in Challenge A, students rolled dice to determine how many to write in a turn, but to keep it simple nad doable for all, each student mere wrote one ending before passing the marker to the partner.


Latin Noun Case Chase.

Purpose: to get energy out. (Seriously!) Other purpose: to allow more capable students to practice categorizing Latin words into noun cases by noticing the endings.

At home: make half sheets of paper with large words on them, all 1st declension vocab words, but with different endings. Aim to have an equal number with nominative endings, genitive endings, etc. You need one per student in your class, minus 5. Why minus 5? because you’ll need 5 students to be taggers, so they won’t have a word.

First, we reviewed which ever declension we were using. (I think I did this with 1st declension endings). We sang the song and I pointed to the endings on a poster on my  wall. I explain we’re going to play tag and that I need 5 taggers to tag people and gather them in their jail. (Meanwhile, helpers are taping the Latin words to the backs of each student, minus the 5 taggers.) Kids crazily wave their hands, but I say the job description requires that they have to tag only people of the Latin noun case assigned to them. I then choose 5 students I think understand this (key!!). I give the each a paper with their assignment. These papers say nominative, or genitive, etc. We review that, yes, they should find both plural and singular.

I made a mistake here of going into too much detail. It’s true that the only people who need to understand are the taggers. Understanding noun cases by endings was beyond the younger kids at this point, and I made the mistake of trying to explain, for students who could handle it, that the ones running away from taggers could figure out which tagger was theirs and know they were safe from the others. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have brought that up–it was info overload for the younger ones and it wasted a lot of time as more and more questions came from those who didn’t understand. Next time, I’ll not bring it up; more capable or older students would figure it out, but the entire class couldn’t handle discussing the minutia! We needed to just og outside and run!

Outside (or in the gym) I had 5 areas designated as jails, one per tagger. We played ’til all students were caught and jailed. Then to determine the winner, I had to check each jail and “free” anyone who was wrongly in the jail. I gave each tagger a point for each correct person in their jail.

Note: students will be amazed that it’s possible some taggers have a lot more people in jail! All the students with “ae”” words on their back could have been sought by genitive, nominative or dative! Any one of those taggers could have been really ambitious and caught fully twice the amount of the others. The revelation for students who realize this makes the game fun.

I planned multiple rounds of this by simply choosing new taggers and placing those new taggers’ old words on the backs of the old taggers. But I wasted so much time explaining the game and answering questions that we had no time. So I highly recommend, really just explain to the taggers what they need to know any let everyone else run. Students who are capable will pick up on the details as we play different rounds, I think. The younger ones really were not able, with just a few hours’ exposure, to get this yet–they just needed to run nad have fun!


Vocab mannequin.

Purpose: to review vocab introduced before.

First, at home, make papers for students to hold that display, in large print, one Latin vocab word each. And have all costumes and props handy.

In class, ask for a volunteer who is willing to let him/herself be dressed up nad posed as a mannequin.

When student comes up, hand him/her a card with the word, letting the audience see. Ask for those to raise their hands if they know what the words means in English, and choose one hand to come up and, without saying a word, dress and pose the mannequin.

When dresser is done, ask the class if that’s correct. If it’s not, ask another student to make any needed changes.

Note: I ran out of time for this. I imagine this will be great fun and get laughs, but it is time consuming; you’d not get through many words. I might, at the next camp, have 4 students holding words up front at a time, so we’re accomplishing the review of 4 words in the same amount of time each turn.


Ancient Rome Clue

Purpose: no-pressure vocab review

To end the day, I finished with Latin Clue. My other post, Latin Clue Game, explains this at the end. To make it work for 34 students, I did the following:

–put students in pairs to play together with one game sheet

–gave each pair only 2 or 3 cards. (Meaning I made 34 or more cards at home for the game, and on day 1, they all had to be vocab words introduced on that day, which for me was 1st and 2nd declension words

–additionally, because I previously taught them how to decline 1st declension names of classmates, there were student names in both the “subject noun” and “direct object” columns of their game card. (We had no 2nd declensions name students.)


Scrambled sentence

Purpose: to practice translating and noticing declension endings to determine Latin noun cases.


At home, make place a sentence on large cards, one word per card. All nouns are in Latin, but other words are in English. Also, get one color of post-it notes and write the following English grammar labels on them: SN, V, DO, IO, OP. Get purple post-its and write the Latin noun cases on them: Nom, Gen, Dat, Acc, Abl

In class I asked for 4 volunteers for my 4-word sentence. I had them come up front and gave them the following cards for the first turn: nautam, servus, victoriā, gave. students talked to determine how to unscramble the sentence and translate it. They could don costumes that fit their words if desired.

When the students lined up to show the class their sentence, I asked them to read it aloud as is.

Next, I asked for volunteers who could label the Latin Noun case with a post-it. (I had them attach it to the bottom of the card the volunteer is holding. I asked students to say why and point to the noun ending on a chart on my wall, showing how they know. this process helps correct any issues if the students’ first guess was wrong. Then I ask them to translate it. (For my example, the unscrambled sentence is :”Servus gave nautam victoriā.” Translation: “The servant gave the sailor victory.”

Then I asked volunteers to place the English grammar labels on the same words, pointing to my question confirmation poster on my wall.

This does admittedly take longer than putting sentences on the board and doing it that IMG_1760 way, but my concern was, putting everything on the board may lose the youngest students; engaging as many bodies as possible might engage more of the class. We got through only a few of these.

The above are the games I used/planned for day 1. I think I’ll need to write another post for others…Large group Game for Latin Camp, part 2


Other posts I wrote:

How Do You Change a Negative Classroom Atmosphere or Create a Positive One in the First Place?

Six Lessons from Employing Mr. Mom (This is what my family did while I was away leading this camp!)

My Current Step in Publishing: Finding an Agent

Creating an Encouraging Classroom

Classroom Management: Positive Social Motivation

Holding Kids Accountable in an Encouraging Classroom





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How Do You Change a Negative Classroom Atmosphere or Create a Positive One in the First Place?

What do you do when a class gets off on the wrong foot? Or a vein of negativity, underlying snickering or contentious comments characterize your take-away after a session with a group of students?

I just ran a 3-day event with a classroom packed with 34 kids, ages 9-14. There are plenty of challenges to this: the age span, the lack of moving space in such a full classroom, and the sheer number of kids. Add to it, knowing some might get hyper or otherwise bring personalities to the mix that, um, interact with other personalities in ways that might not always be constructive! Mind you, this was supposed to be an academic camp. Academic=they should learn. Camp=they should have fun.

I’m experienced at classroom management, so I started my camp the way you should: stating expectations, having a plan, and giving students something to shoot for when they meet those expectations (Creating an Encouraging Classroom). I was also well-prepared with material I felt comfortable with. In my former public school career, I’d been a language arts teacher, and this academic camp was right up my alley, and I was armed with activities and games to keep these preteen and young teens moving and interacting, acting and laughing. (Because that’s the best way to learn grammar, language skills, and Roman mythology!)

And yet, I still had a bumpy first day. I left my lesson plans at my house! (My gracious husband drove them to me!) But I had to start class with nothing and felt out of sorts since I hadn’t the opportunity to organize my things adequately. I was also worried I could make it through the day due to a prior nerve injury to my face that made speaking and projecting for hours on end difficult; the the afternoon, one side of my lips gets slack, unable to move well to form the right words.

And one game I planned fell flat. One song I’d created to help them remember something in a fun way, I just couldn’t sing, though I swear I could at home quite well. (Note to self, I can sing like that only first thing in the day–not after hours straining my voice already.) We found multiple mistakes–typos on handouts and even on a poster on the wall. All of this shook my confidence and brought some students to comment. (Though let me say, their comments were not aggressive; they could have been a LOT harsher. And yet, it’s my philosophy that subtle under-the-breath comments can be corrosive and ruin a positive learning environment. I don’t like to ignore such things. But the question is, what’s the best way to deal with them? The answer I think is different depending on the situation and students.)

I confess that I let weariness and frustration enter my voice when the game fell flat, frustrated that kids couldn’t or wouldn’t follow the directions as the sun was beating down on us. I instantly disliked myself. I went home with that taste in my mouth. A part of me was ready to start the class the next morning with a firmer hand, reminding them of expectations: 1) being respectful, not intolerant of things like typos, 2) following rules of the games so students can enjoy them, 3) not chatting so much, etc. In my first years of managing classrooms, I would have done just that.

But I did not.

Instead, I started the class telling them a story. About how adults kept commenting with things like, “You have 34 students! Oh, goodness!” (This was the largest class I’ve had in this context; it is not the norm, but a necessary exception that had to be made for this event this year.)  “You have e/teens six hours a day? Are you surviving?” And my response was, “Surviving? No, it’s not about surviving! Running this academic camp, as I’ve done for three years, is one of the most fun things I get to do all year.” (So true. I volunteer for this age group’s camp. I love students in the dialectic stage, a classical education philosophy term for their stage of learning to question.) I told my students this exchange. I repeated what I had said Day 1, that I think their age-group is the most fun, and I intend the class to be fun. I praised the students for everything I could think of–for volunteering so awesomely, for being game in my crazy schemes where they end up dressed like Roman soldiers and who knows what else by the end of the day, for participating, for being curious and asking questions, for acting in skits, etc. I knew the majority of these students and had had them in classes in the past few years, and others I knew of and had been eager to get to know in class.  When I first saw my class list, I’d gotten so excited; I love these kids, for what I know of them and what I expect to learn of them. So I laid bare all the positivity I had about this class.

I mentioned narry a word about any of the issues of the previous day.

And two things happened. As I gave voice to how much I loved them, I reminded myself and saw them through that lens instead of through the lens of small disappointments the previous day, instead of through negativity about things not being perfect. Secondly, what happened is, the students bloomed in that praise. Of the remaining two days of that three-day camp, I didn’t see a hint of any negativity from them. Their efforts academically and to make positive choices and conduct themselves well redoubled. We had two days of blissful learning and fun with no discipline issues!

I’m not so sure those results could have been achieved if I’d focused on the few disappointments of day 1 instead of choosing to saturate them with my praise for the much longer list of reasons why I enjoyed them and was proud of them.

Over the days, I sprinkled in more praise. I highlighted one student who questioned something I taught on day 1, as he thought it conflicted with something he’d learned before, and I focused on praising him for how respectful his questioning was. I asked the class, Was this student disrespectful? A chorus of nos confirmed my impression. He had disagreed with me, but he was not dismissive, argumentative or disrespectful.

I also praised them for having grace whenever something I tried didn’t go exactly as planned. I explained that I’m an experimenter and love creating games, and I thanked them for being willing to follow my untried ideas. (Sometimes they’re fantastic. Other times, they’re just learning experiences of what not to do!)

On the last day, I thanked them for their patience. I explained that I thought they needed patience to be in this camp; the younger kids often probably felt lost and the older ones probably felt exasperated sometimes when younger kids didn’t understand something and asked question after question about things they themselves thought were easy!

That was the largest class I’d ever had in one room, and of the four different camps I’ve led now, this was the least stressful, most fun and most congenial I ever had. The students impressed me so much with their maturity and earnestness and interest.

Last fall, I met an old college friend, a fellow English teacher, for dinner after nont seeing her in a decade. Though neither of us are in public education anymore, we both lead and teach in various contexts, and separately we’ve both come to the same conclusion about what makes a good teacher, what makes us effective in the classroom. It’s so much less about our lesson plans than we ever thought (though they are necessary). What it really boils down to is our personality and how we conduct ourselves. It is the revelation I’ve come to after 20 years of teaching school, Sunday school and tutoring groups: my best classes are the ones in which my love for my students colors the lens through which I see them, when I am quick to laugh and our classroom is full or mirth and laughter, and I enjoy my students so much that they feel it. I was not capable of this for all my classes my first year teaching. I recall getting to that point with one class that year and how that group of ninth graders thrived. (Truly, there are so many skill sets requires to teach well, and I didn’t really get how to duplicate this until I’d gained more confidence, really learned how to nail a lesson plan, knew how to interest my students and effectively set expectations and hold my students to that in order to have an emotionally safe classroom where students could feel comfortable among their peers.)

It’s easy to love some students and classes. Others take more work as far as my perspective. But I’ve decided that is my work. To do whatever it takes to get to that place of loving them so I can be a good teacher for them. When I’m annoyed and frustrated, I’m not a good teacher, no matter what lessons I planned. For me, this requires prayer to see them through God’s eyes sometimes and choosing to stir up my reasons for loving students so they are right in front of me as I encounter my class again.

These are the tips I want to remind myself:

  1. A pleasant atmosphere rests on a pleasant me–one who doesn’t take herself too seriously, isn’t married to her lessons plans, and one who is not quick to be offended/disappointed (I listen to a lot of Dan Mohler on youtube about being unoffended…)
  2. It’s all about building rapport. In my second  year of full-time teaching, the principal evaluated me within the first 6 weeks, and he said, despite the intimidating list of teacher performance requirements, what he really cared about most was that “You know every student’s name, and you interact with them easily. They know you like them.” Last summer, a camp student asked his mom to drive farther to bring him to my class next year, because I “taught with so much joy” and “enjoyed” the students. These are the things I remind myself when I get weary, overwhelmed or feel unequal to the task.

And that is the magic I’ve found, my keys to answer others’ questions about why my classes go well and why I continue to volunteer and contract for these classes again and again! In July, I’m doing the class again with a new group of students, and I can’t wait!

Other posts:

Large Group Games for Latin Camp

Creating an Encouraging Classroom

Classroom Management: Positive Social Motivation

Holding Kids Accountable in an Encouraging Classroom

Latin Clue Game

The Ink They Left On Me: Writers Anne Lamott and Tracy Chevalier


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The Ink They Left On Me: Writers Anne Lamott and Tracy Chevalier

Writers leave deep impressions on me with their art. Some people use the very skin of their bodies to honor people, places, or events that marked them. (Babies’ names and birth dates, faces of Jesus and Bible verses, animals, zodiac signs or Chinese characters symbolizing who they are or aspire to be…) The tattoos map out where they’ve been, and things that have built them and influenced them, creating a visible record.

Great books and writers have left marks on me, though others cannot see them. But I’m sure they inevitably leave some evidence in what I write—either in style, content, or structure. And the craziest thing I have to realize is that I may be unaware of some of it—maybe most of it!! I owe so much to other writers.

I’ve been spending time lately writing queries to agents, and guess what I got stumped on? Comparison titles! That stalled me for some time! But in considering that, it got me thinking about all these writers whose books I’ve not forgotten and what I learned from them. So, I want to start to honor them and the impact they’ve made; it’s a gift, really.


Reading Anne Lamott changed the way I write children. I noticed her gift for this first in her book, Blue Shoe; the young kids in that book are real characters, delineated as carefully as a portrait artist would render them. They’re written with such love that the book opened my eyes to having kids in adult books who were not just stock characters—not just objects or props in the lives of the adults to prove that families were made. I think I read that book a decade ago, and it still stands out as a flagship for writing kids.

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Also, many years ago, I saw an interview with actress and children’s book author Jamie Lee Curtis who wrote a kids‘ book entitled, When I was Little: A 4-Year-Old’s Memoir of Her Youth. One of my own children said precocious, adult-like things as a little tyke, and it is hilarious—but I can’t laugh, even from amusement, because he was very serious! I never read that picture book, but something Curtis said in the TV interview made me see the dignity and veracity in a child looking down the barrel of his/her whole life’s existence with authority. Kids are living a life, and they are the experts of their own experience, albeit it short.

When I was writing my first completed novel, I wanted the two kids in my book to be real, to have their own threads in the plot line. (Now, sadly so much of what I carefully wrote ended up being cut for the sake of shaving my mammoth book into something approaching publishable—but that’s another story…) But my older one, a girl named Lu who is seven, is complex and has very serious reactions to the events and phenomena in her life. Though she may be a minor character as the niece of a main character, she is much more than a prop, much more than a body in a scene merely holding a place in a family portrait to prove that her mother once gave birth.

But I’ve taken the challenge to write kids in a way that respects that youth has its own perspective of experiences—whether age three or thirteen. I want my kid characters to seem real because they say things that make you think. I don’t want them to say and do things that have them merely pass as realistic as humans. I remember the kids Lamott wrote were quirky and beautifully unique in the way most little kids are: whimsical and idealistic, feeling all their feelings so very intensely. Thanks, Anne! (But really, I could write a few posts about other things she has taught me…)


Next I need to mention Tracy Chevalier and her gift of introducing me to the dual timeline mastered well. Chevalier’s novel entitled A Virgin Blue is the first book I either read that was dual-timeline, or at least the first really well-done dual-timeline book that I read. Switching back and forth between a story of a French Huguenot family during the Reformation era in Europe and a modern-day woman vising Europe, Chevalier took me through these two stories in a way that made me more curious about each. I’ve rarely skimmed or gone ahead in books, but I confess I did on this one, to get to the climax of one storyline! The historical detail was astonishingly vivid, drawing me into the past of a domestic life I can only imagine. I can still feel the cuts and cracks on the raw skin of the characters as they worked the coarse hemp with their hands, hour after hour and day after day, for survival, for their family’s cottage industry.

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After reading this book of Chevalier’s, I searched for two types of books: 1) anything else written by Chevalier and 2) books with dual timelines and/or two generations of the same family. Chevalier got me hooked on a whole sub-genre in literary fiction. And when I began to write the next novel, I knew I wanted to try that.

And there are so many more writers whose ink left marks on me! I could write a series of posts on them…. Maybe I will….


Other posts:

Finding an Editor: Genre Matters (And sometimes, maybe you just have to do it yourself!)

My Dad, Monsanto and Christmas Trees

I’m NOT that Crafty Mom


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